New methods can detect cancer years before it appears

Posted byadmin Posted onApril 3, 2024 Comments0
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A new research institute has developed early diagnostic techniques to detect changes in cells years before they become cancerous. These early changes would remain latent for long periods before the disease manifests abruptly. Based on these findings, several techniques are now being developed for esophageal cancer, prostate cancer and leukemia.

Opened in 2022, the Early Cancer Institute at the University of Cambridge is a research center specifically dedicated to the prevention and early detection of cancer. To do this, research focuses on the identification of early cellular and molecular factors likely to trigger the development of tumors. At the same time, advanced diagnostic techniques are being developed to target these markers and predict cancer risk. The long-term goal is to provide ways to fight cancer well before symptoms appear.

Indeed, research has recently shown that cancer progresses in stages. Many people develop precancerous conditions several years before their diagnosis. In other words, these conditions remain unresolved for years or even decades before the first symptoms appear. Identifying markers underlying these conditions would thus provide ample room for maneuver for doctors. Not only would this increase the chances of successful treatment and the survival rate, but it would also significantly reduce treatment costs.

Early diagnosis and intervention strategies contrast with current approaches for most forms of cancer. “ Currently, we detect many cancers late and have to invent drugs that become more and more expensive », explained to The Guardian Rebecca Fitzgerald, director of the institute. However, “we often only extend the lifespan by a few weeks or months, involving tens of thousands of euros in costs,” she added.

More accessible and less invasive tools

Among the Early Cancer Institute's latest advances is the “cytosponge,” a tool for detecting precancerous cells in the esophagus. Originally intended for the diagnosis of Barrett's esophagus (a chronic condition that can be a precursor to cancer), it is a small capsule attached to a string and can be swallowed. Once in the stomach, it expands, absorbing gastric juices like a sponge. By being removed, it allows cells from the esophagus to be collected as they pass.

The collection of cells aims to detect those with a protein marker called TFF3, identified as being specific to precancerous cells. The capsule will soon enter clinical trials for both Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer. According to Fitzgerald, “the sponge capsule, a quick and simple test for Barrett's esophagus, could cut the number of deaths from esophageal cancer in half each year.”

According to the researchers' estimates, examinations involving the cytosponge would be much less expensive, faster (around 10 minutes) and less unpleasant and invasive for the patient than endoscopy. The device could also be used in a simple doctor's office and would not require hospitalization.

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Another approach the team is working on involves analyzing blood samples. Those involved in the study were initially provided by 200,000 women as part of ovarian cancer screening and stored for several decades. By analyzing the samples, the researchers identified clear genetic markers specific to those who developed leukemia 10 to 20 years after the samples were taken.

We find that there are obvious genetic changes in a person's blood more than a decade before they start showing symptoms of leukemia », Says the head of the research group, Jamie Blundell. Another group (not affiliated with the institute) is working on a more or less similar strategy aimed at early diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

In addition, another team from the institute identified early markers associated with prostate cancer. According to experts, their detection could be much more effective in identifying individuals at risk than current tests based on the assessment of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels.

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